Colors with the HDR-FX7 (wrap-up), Shooting outdoors

Here comes the conclusion of my quest about getting colors right when shooting outdoors with the HDR-FX7E. After so many tests and color woes, the solution is so simple that – I think – it now calls for a comprehensive summary in one single post:

  1. First I had noticed that the green of trees and grass sometimes appears a bit yellow when shooting with default settings – that includes using Auto White Balance. So I studied the various color settings that are available in the FX7, and came up with a proposed picture profile tweak in Part 1 – Improving the color green with custom Picture Profiles.
  2. Then I tested different picture profiles with AWB in Part 2 – Tweaking Auto White Balance. This showed that picture profiles like WB Shift -1 / Color Level +1 do improve the color green a bit with a color balance closer to neutral. As a side tip, I also showed how a Gray Scale can help equalize colors between shots in adverse conditions. But in the end, it appeared that picture profile tweaks are no match for the wild behavior of Auto White Balance, which can cause random yellow casts to various extents – sometimes slight, sometimes quite severe – and a nightmare when trying to match colors in post. A better, repeatable solution was needed.
  3. How about Manual White Balance? Part 3 – Unreliable Manual White Balance showed that it also causes random red casts, and therefore cannot be trusted. Too bad for such a costly, sophisticated, 3-sensor camcorder.
  4. Part 4 – Testing the OUTDOOR White Balance preset finally showed that the OUTDOOR WB preset is the best candidate for securing faithful colors and a neutral outdoors color balance.
  5. On to a real-life test in the countryside: Part 5 – Comparison of OUTDOOR preset vs. Auto White Balance demonstrates the superiority of OUTDOOR WB over Auto WB. I also show that changing the ‘AWB SENS’ menu setting from the default ‘Intelligent’ to the value ‘Low’ seems to improve AWB behavior by reducing yellow color cast when that happens.
  6. And for anyone who would need further convincing, Part 6 – More AWB yellow evil examples!

Many thanks to klenkfilm and 2mnyHCs of Sony HDV Info .com who gave this OUTDOOR preset tip and warned against using AWB (thread: FX7 and white balance: what is your opinion?). After all, AWB did a fair job on the HDR-HC3, and choosing a fixed preset instead seemed to go against the very nature of outdoors shooting where the color of light always seems to change ever so subtly. So why try to outsmart the machine’s auto program in the first place, that’s what I had first thought!

Anyway, whatever the cause of this AWB behavior, whatever the reason for that wicked ‘AWB SENS’ feature, there’s now a simple solution for best colors when shooting outdoors.

So here is my final complete recommendation for shooting outdoors with the HDR-FX7E (custom picture profile and other settings):

  • Regarding colors: OUTDOOR WB preset, WB Shift -1, Color Level +1. Maybe also set ‘AWB SENS’ to ‘Low’ in case you would still need an emergency temporary switch to AWB.
  • Regarding sharpness: Sharpness 6, ‘AT IRIS LMT’ set to f5.6 while trying to keep iris around f4 as much as possible, and avoid full zoom-out (keep a slight zoom-in instead).

End of this quest, summer is vacation time – everybody move out there and record great memories!